The trees swirled unhappily outside, throwing bursts of white powder into the relentless wind. Laurie hated the snow. He hated the thick drifts, the ice that froze his back door shut, and the gray sludge that was left behind as it melted. He disliked winter in general. Not that he was any great Spring enthusiast either. Often, he wished there was one perfect season. One without mud or pollen or freezing rain or unbearable heat or snow.
Laurie glared out at the wintery mess in what he hoped was a very haughty way, wrapping his spindly fingers around a luke-warm mug of tea. It seemed to be one of those days that you simply cannot wait to end. Even though he had the heat cranked, there was still a general raw feeling in his little brown house that kept him on his feet, combing for heavy blankets and heating pads. And tissues. He had run out earlier that morning, and he had to be content with rough blue napkins to blow his steaming nose.
Laurie set his blue checkered mug of cold tea down on the counter and filled the kettle again before dejectedly flopping down in a kitchen chair. He was a solitary creature as a rule, but today he longed for a friendly face. Living alone wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. The only sound in the frozen expanse of his kitchen was the thin mumbling of his little silver clock that sat in the corner by a pile of over-ripe avocados. Just as he was trying to psyche himself up to go do something- perhaps finally finish that book on World War 2 he had received for his birthday-his phone buzzed in his pocket. He opened the text.
Laurie smiled. It was Brynn. He hadn’t heard much from his short, opinionated best friend since she moved to California to finish her medical degree.
Laurie took a moment to reply. He had never been a particularly fast typer, and though most people his age were experts in lol’s and omg’s, he had never quite seen the point of abbreviations.
Not much. It’s really cold here. How are you?
He could just picture Brynn’s fingers flying as she responded. Maybe she was stretched out on some beach, enjoying the warm caress of the sun. Maybe Laurie wasn’t a warm-weather person, but he sure preferred it to freezing his toes off in New England.
Good… go open ur back door.
just do it ya weirdo.
Knowing Brynn, it was probably some care package or fruit basket. Once, Brynn had sent him a huge box full of cinnamon salt water taffy, just because she knew how much he loved the stuff. Sticking his phone in his back pocket, Laurie stood, unlocked his door, and peered out into the frozen world. What he wasn’t in any way prepared for was to see Brynn’s beaming, rosy-cheeked face on his back step. “Surprise!” she squealed.
Before he could register that his best friend was here, standing in front of him in a pink parka, rather than off tanning in California, she wrapped him tightly in a snowy hug, dripping half-melted slush down his back.
“ Oh, god. Brynn, how are you even here?” he laughed in amazement, even though the wind was whipping through his gray cotton shirt and there was snow from her coat on his face. He laughed because she was here and her breath smelled like peppermint and he hadn’t realized how much he had missed her.
“ Are you gonna let me come in or what?” she asked, ignoring his question.
“ Gosh, Yeah, come on in. How did you get here?” he asked.
Brynn flounced inside the house, shaking snow all over the charcoal mat as she pulled off her hat and mittens. Snow hung from her strawberry blonde hair in wet clumps that swung back and forth as she looked around. Suddenly, Laurie wished he had had time to tidy up, painfully aware of the piles of pots and pans in the sink and the crumbs that were scattered across the marble countertop. The forlorn kettle began to screech, and Laurie, glad of something to do with his hands, bustled off to pour them some tea.
“So what the heck are you doing here Bri? I thought you were in California,” he called from the kitchen.
She shrugged cheerfully, closing the door behind her and plopping down on the mat, still in her winter boots and jacket. “ Caught a late flight last night. I kinda came on a whim. I wanted to surprise my mom for her birthday.”
Laurie shook his head as he filled two mugs to the brim with steaming liquid.
How very like Brynn to decide “on a whim” to fly across the country. He handed her the tea, realizing he had unconsciously made her favorite, a chai lavender blend he had never liked but had in the back of his cupboard.
“Plus,” she teased, “ I thought you might be lonely, up here in your little house on the hill.” Laurie smiled and leaned against the counter, deciding to try a taste of the bitter tea. Even from across the country it was like she had known what he was thinking better than he did. “I fell like three times coming up here, you know,” Brynn continued, taking a sip and letting out a contented sigh, “ It’s pretty icy. I had to hold on to a lamppost to stay upright.” She fingered her silver hoop earrings as Laurie forced himself to swallow the bitter tea. It hadn’t gotten any better since he last had it with her. “ Why don’t you take your coat off and come sit by the fire? You have to tell me all about California,” he said, gesturing weakly, suddenly aware that he hadn’t said much to his best friend, ( and that she was still hunched up on his doormat). He felt foolish. It wasn’t that he wasn’t happy to see her, but he was more a listener than a talker. And it had been so long.
“Aww, you don’t want to hear about that, you’re just being all host-like,” she laughed, “ C’mon it’s just me, you goof.” She had always seen right through him. Even though it was unnerving, there was something soothing about it. At least he didn’t need to pretend to be someone he wasn’t around her.
“Besides,” she continued before he could protest, “ I want to go sledding.”
“ Really, Bri? It’s like 13 degrees out.”
“ Yeah, I know.” There was that playful defiance in her eyes. What college-age woman besides Brynn would want to go trekking out in a blizzard to sled? Laurie couldn’t even remember the last time he had been sledding. Even as a kid, he had felt like a sweaty marshmallow, wrapped in layers of puffy clothes, stumbling up a hill after his siblings, gasping and puffing, just to reach the top and watch them sail away without him, laughing as his face crumpled.
“ No, c’mon Brynn. I hate the snow, you know that” He was begging; he knew it. Because even though no part of him had any interest in going out in the snow, her green eyes were shining and somehow he knew that he might hike across Antarctica if she asked. She smiled.
“It’ll be fun, and we’re going.”
“Bri, we don’t even have a sled,” Laurie tried, shaking his head.
She smirked in that infuriating way of hers. “ Sure we do. I brought the one from my mom’s house. We used to use it all the time when we were little, remember?”
Out of excuses, Laurie groaned good-naturedly and went to grab his coat, and old green thing that was two sizes too small and couldn’t keep a cat warm. As he pulled it over his bony frame, he thought about how her eyes reminded him of shards of sea glass.
The two trudged out into the snow, dragging the battered toboggan sled behind them. The thread that came with the sled had long since snapped and had been replaced by a thin black shoelace. Brynn laughed and gestured and talked and talked as they walked, and she didn’t expect Laurie to force himself to reply, because she knew he was listening in that somber way of his. She set the sled up at the top of the long hill, lined with the dusty light of streetlamps, and plopped down.
“Remind why we’re doing this?” Laurie said, grinning and piling on behind her.
“ Because it’s fun, Laurie, that’s why. Remember that thing? Fun?”
Her voice rolling over the syllables of his name made something inside him jump, just a little. He wrapped his arms around her, and he could see the crystal flakes that balanced on her eyelashes. Her hair smelled like strawberry shampoo, silky and soft near his ear.
A jolt and they were speeding away down the hill, the silver touch of snowflakes blurring to shards as the wind howled alongside them. Laurie couldn’t tear the smile from his face as Brynn whooped in front of him.
The rusty runners slipped, and the sled jerked off course into a snowdrift by the bottom of the hill.
They tumbled into the cold embrace of the snow, and Brynn’s laugh echoed through the wind as Laurie pulled himself out of the snowbank with frost-dusted hair. And it was those eyes, those sea-glass eyes gazing deep into him as she leaned forward. She pressed her cold lips to his, and there was warmth amid the storm.